Season after season, the percentage of women taking part in major FIA Karting events continues to rise. The efforts of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile continue to produce results at every level. Young and old alike, women want to take advantage of the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with men, and if possible to win. One of them, Italian Natalia Balbo, raced from 2017 to 2022 in the KZ2 category at the major events. At the same time, she has also developed her skills as a coach and mechanic. In 2023, she provided assistance to young Polish driver Klara Kowalczyk, competing in the FIA Karting Academy Trophy.
Tell us about yourself and your karting career?
I’m Italian, from Vicenza, a town between Verona and Venice. I was born on 14 February 1996, Valentine’s Day. I started karting at the age of 10 in Mini, but I was already tall at that age, which wasn’t really an advantage in that category. I quickly moved up to Junior. I first raced in a brand challenge for several seasons, managing to qualify for an international grand final. Then, in 2017, I chose the KZ2 category, which is not necessarily common for a woman. I wanted to take up the challenge, especially as the team I was racing with specialised in gearbox karts. I’ve qualified several times in European Championship Finals and in the International Supercup, notably in 2020 at Lonato where I finished 16th out of 100.
How did you come to become a mechanic and coach?
It was becoming difficult to finance my last few seasons in karting. So I made a deal with my team to help them assist drivers, in exchange for a better rate for racing. That was three or four years ago. I loved this role. You share the joys and sorrows in a different way, especially when it’s a young driver. You see things differently and I think that helped me improve when I got back behind the wheel.
In 2022, I had an important season as a driver, taking part in a number of major international events, including the FIA Karting KZ2 World Cup at Le Mans. I did a lot of physical training and performed well, even if the results didn’t really follow. For 2023, on the other hand, I haven’t put together a racing programme because of other personal priorities. I still have mechanical engineering studies to finish at university.
How did you come to meet Klara Kowalczyk?
This season, she chose to do a double programme, taking part in both the Academy Trophy and OK-Junior events. Her father asked me to look after her. He thought that the association between two women would be beneficial and that we would understand each other perfectly. In fact, we achieved good results with Klara, bearing in mind that she was still competing in Mini a year earlier. In the three events of the FIA Karting Academy Trophy, she finished successively P8, P10 and P12, with a 12th place overall. She finished some heats in the top three and set a fastest lap in the race. She has speed and a fighting spirit, but still lacks consistency and needs to get more involved. In 2023, there were five female drivers in this competition. That’s still not enough compared to the 40 boys, but there have never been so many since the creation of the Academy Trophy.
What do you think of the FIA Karting Academy Trophy?
It’s an excellent formula in terms of training and detection. The Trophy must continue to encourage rookies and help them to progress so that they can move up to higher categories in the best possible conditions. It’s interesting to find out which drivers deserve to go higher thanks to this formula where everyone uses the same equipment. Unfortunately, some young drivers take part in many other major international events as well as the Trophy and this experience often enables them to make the difference. It’s going to be tough to stop this happening!
Is it more difficult to be a woman in a karting field?
I’d like to say that there’s no difference, whether you’re a woman or a man. But in my career, I’ve often found myself off the track, being pushed by drivers I’ve just overtaken or who haven’t managed to overtake me. I still have the impression that some male drivers find it harder to accept being beaten by a woman. We shouldn’t generalise about this either, it doesn’t apply to all drivers, but it’s a shame to see a driver offended when a woman overtakes him. For my part, I avoid thinking about this phenomenon, otherwise you’re not calm when you’re driving and you start making mistakes or becoming less competitive. On the track, we all have to be equal.
Info Kartcom / Photo © KSP